The oddsmakers in Las Vegas have established the Georgia Bulldogs as a two-touchdown favorite for Saturday’s annual renewal of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. The last time the Florida Gators were two touchdown underdogs to Georgia was 2002 when the Bulldogs came into the game 8-0 to face a Florida team struggling at 5-3 under first year head coach Ron Zook.
That was supposed to be an easy win that would keep the Bulldogs in the hunt for the BCS National Championship Game but a funny thing happened on the way to the blowout. Florida radically altered its game plan, going from a downfield passing game to one that favored bubble and tunnel screens. The ploy had a two-fold effect: (1) It neutralized Georgia’s fearsome pass rush and (2) turned the short, quick passes into what served as a running game against a team that just didn’t let teams run the ball between the tackles.
Georgia All-American David Pollack got one sack in the game and he picked off a Rex Grossman screen pass, but for the most part, nobody else got a hand on Grossman because he got the ball out of his hands so quickly. Grossman was 36-46 passing the ball for 339 yards and two touchdowns with 21 of the completions going to Carlos Perez and Kelvin Kight. Perez caught 12 passes for 76 yards with a longest gain of 13 while Kight caught nine balls for 115 yards, his longest a 20-yarder. Over on the defensive side, the Gators played inspired football, holding the Bulldogs to 294 total yards thanks to a fierce pass rush that got to David Greene four times for 27 yards in losses. Green finished the day 11-29 for 141 yards but without any real downfield throwing game, the Georgia offense was neutralized and the Gators walked away with a 20-13 decision. The game-winning touchdown pass was a 10-yarder from Grossman to Ben Troupe that finished off a 10-play, 89-yard drive that was nine passes, all of the short variety, and a single run by Earnest Graham that netted three yards.
The talking heads believe that Georgia will easily cover the spread Saturday and why not? The Bulldogs seem to be picking up so much steam that even the loss of Todd Gurley hasn’t slowed them down. They simply plugged in Nick Chubb, who has delivered 345 yards and three touchdowns as the more than adequate replacement tailback. While vaulting to the #9 national ranking, the Bulldogs have become the odds-on favorite to make it to Atlanta as the SEC East champion.
Meanwhile, the Gators enter the contest losers of three of the last four games including an embarrassing 42-13 hosing at The Swamp to the same Missouri team that Georgia blew out by a 34-0 margin in Columbia. Since beating Kentucky in triple overtime in game two, Florida’s offense has been in the tank and the special teams turned in their worst performance against Missouri of any Florida team since 2002 when Derek Abney of Kentucky ran back a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns.
To cure the offensive woes, Florida coach Will Muschamp is turning the keys of a rotten offense over to freshman Treon Harris, who has been the lone bright spot in recent weeks. Giving a true freshman quarterback his first start ever in a high pressure game against a team with a fearsome pass rush might seem like a desperation move, but desperate times call for desperate measures. With his job on the line, Muschamp really can’t afford to take the chance that Jeff Driskel will deliver another resoundingly bad performance so he has little choice but to go with Harris.
Although Ron Zook was in no danger of being fired after the Georgia game in 2002, the situation did call for something radical so by going horizontal with the passing game, the Gators controlled the football and came up with an unexpected win that cost the Bulldogs any chance of playing for the national championship.
If Muschamp and the Gators knock off Georgia it won’t necessarily keep the Bulldogs out of Atlanta for the SEC title game since they are the only team in the SEC East with only one loss but it could put them on shaky ground with a month left in the regular season.
And, it might be the only thing that can solidify the shaky ground on which Muschamp currently stands. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Let’s see if this one works like it did for Zooker in 2002.
1. Mississippi State (7-0, 4-0 SEC): Kentucky exposed Mississippi State’s pass defense once again, but the Bulldogs compensated with 542 offensive yards including 198 on the ground from Josh Robinson, who is as good as any running back in the SEC. There’s not another serious challenge on the schedule until November 15 when the Bulldogs travel to Alabama.
2. Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC): Just when you thought Bama’s defense had found its groove, Tennessee – go figure – ran for 181 yards and hung 24 points on the Crimson Tide. Nick Saban gets an off week to figure things out before he takes the Tide to LSU on November 8.
3. Auburn (6-1, 3-1 SEC): The Tigers can move the ball on anybody, but their pass defense was exposed by South Carolina. If the Tigers plan to stay in the hunt for the SEC East title, then they better win at Oxford against Ole Miss on Saturday.
4. Ole Miss (7-1, 4-1 SEC): Bad Bo showed up against LSU and his rotten performance led to Ole Miss biting the bullet for the first time this season. Auburn comes to Oxford in an SEC West elimination game Saturday.
5. LSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC): Better get the Tigers while you can. The young kids are growing up and will be beastly next season on both sides of the ball. Leonard Fournette is starting to prove that he was worth every bit of the hype.
6. Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC): The Bulldogs couldn’t survive in the SEC West. Fortunately, for them, they live in the much more docile SEC East where wins over Florida and Kentucky will punch their ticket to Atlanta.
7. Texas A&M (5-3, 2-3 SEC): The Aggies can become bowl-eligible this week by beating Louisiana-Monroe. Don’t be shocked if Kyle Allen uses this game to take over as the starting quarterback. Kenny Hill can throw with anyone but he can’t run and that’s what is missing from the A&M attack.
8. Arkansas (4-4, 0-4 SEC): The Razorbacks haven’t won an SEC game since October 13, 2012. The streak will reach 17 straight SEC losses this weekend when they travel to Mississippi State. But, they’re still better than all but Georgia in the SEC East.
9. Missouri (6-2, 3-1 SEC): Maty Mauk completed fewer than 50% of his passes for the fourth straight game against Vandy but at least he didn’t throw a pick. Even with the second worst quarterback in the SEC, the Tigers are bowl-eligible but they might not win another game.
10. South Carolina (4-4, 2-4 SEC): For want of a defense, an SEC East championship has been lost this season. The Gamecocks can throw the ball on anyone. Unfortunately, they can’t stop anyone from throwing it … or running it. There are four winnable games on the schedule if their defense shows up and offers at least token resistance.
11. Florida (3-3, 2-3 SEC): Saturday’s game with Georgia could be the start of the five-game Will Muschamp Redemption Tour or it could be the last straw of his Florida coaching career. Figure he needs four wins with one of them either Georgia or FSU to keep his job. A bad loss to Georgia could be the end of the road, however.
12. Kentucky (5-3, 2-3 SEC): The Wildcats are a lot like LSU. Better get them now because the paybacks will be hell the next couple of years. Quarterback Patrick Towles is the real deal. A win over Missouri Saturday and the Wildcats are bowl-eligible, which would rank as major improvement over last year.
13. Tennessee (3-5, 0-4 SEC): The Vols may have finally found their quarterback in Josh Dobbs, who passed for two touchdowns and ran for another 75 in his first start of the season against Alabama. If the Vols can win three of their final four games they could go bowling.
14. Vanderbilt (2-6, 0-5 SEC): The Commodores rank #122 in points for (17.1) and 100 in points against (32.8). After three straight bowl years and a nine-win season in 2013, the Commodores are back to holding up the bottom of the league.
Mississippi State picked up the three first place votes that went to Ole Miss last week to remain at #1 for the third consecutive week. Florida State, idle last Saturday, remains in second place with the nation’s longest winning streak (23 games). Alabama moved up to third while Ole Miss dropped down to seventh.
(1) Mississippi State; (2) Florida State; (3) Alabama; (4) Auburn; (5) Oregon; (6) Notre Dame; (7) Ole Miss; (8) Michigan State; (9) Georgia; (10) TCU; (11) Kansas State; (12) Baylor; (13) Ohio State; (14) Arizona; (15) Arizona State; (16) LSU; (17) Nebraska; (18) Utah; (19) Oklahoma; (20) West Virginia; (21) East Carolina; (22) Clemson; (23) Marshall; (24) Duke; (25) UCLA.
The Seminoles are last year’s champs and they haven’t lost this year. Their 23-game winning streak is tops in the country and it doesn’t seem there is much chance they will lose another regular season game.
(1) Florida State; (2) Mississippi State; (3) Alabama; (4) Auburn; (5) Ole Miss; (6) Oregon; (7) Georgia; (8) TCU; (9) Notre Dame; (10) Michigan State; (11) Kansas State; (12) Ohio State; (13) Baylor; (14) Arizona State; (15) LSU; (16) Arizona; (17) East Carolina; (18) Clemson; (19) Marshall; (20) West Virginia; (21) Oklahoma; (22) Nebraska; (23) UCLA; (24) Utah; (25) Duke.
The Southeastern Conference has three of the top four teams in the AP poll and five teams ranked in the top nine. In non-conference games against Division I teams the SEC is 32-3 while the Pac-12 is 23-3. The Big Ten is 29-14 while the ACC is 23-14 and the Big 12 is 15-7.1. SEC
3. Big Ten
4. Big 12
5. Notre Dame
The in crowd:
1. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: He didn’t have a great day against Kentucky – 216 passing yards for one touchdown; 88 rushing yards, two touchdowns – but it was good enough to keep the Bulldogs unbeaten and #1 nationally. For the season he has 1,664 passing yards and 15 touchdowns, 664 rushing yards and 10 more scores.
2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon: Mariota threw for 326 yards and five touchdowns in the Ducks’ win over California. He needs a great game and a win Saturday against Stanford, which derailed his Heisman hopes last year. For the season he has thrown for 2,283 yards and 24 touchdowns (just one pick) and run for 325 yards and five touchdowns.
3. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: Gordon had a rather ho-hum 122 yards and three touchdowns in a blowout win over Maryland. His seasonal numbers are 1,168 rushing yards (7.6 per carry) and 16 touchdowns in seven games.
4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Cooper might not win the Heisman but he’s a lock to win the Biletnikoff Awards. Against Tennessee, the numbers were staggering – nine catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns. This season he has 71 catches for 1,132 yards and nine touchdowns. He is uncoverable.
5. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU: Even before he threw for seven touchdowns against Texas Tech his stats were exceptional. With TCU very much in the hunt for the Big 12 title and perhaps a semifinal berth if the Frogs win out, Boykin is suddenly in the Heisman talk. His season numbers are 2,306 passing yards for 21 touchdowns (only three picks) and 374 rushing yards for three more touchdowns.
The out crowd:
(1) Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia (still suspended); (2) Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State (should have been suspended long ago); (3) Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska; (4) Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn; (5) Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss
Do you believe the Gators are capable of springing an upset this weekend against Georgia?
For the last 46 years, Tower of Power has consistently had the best horn section in the music business. They are a terrific solo act although they’re best known for bolstering the tours of the Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones, Starship, Huey Lewis and the News, Toto, Rod Stewart, Santana, Aerosmith and John Lee Hooker among others. I found this great video of their 40th anniversary performance that brought together so many of the band members including awesome horns. This is their best song ever, “You’re Still a Young Man.”